LAKE OF THE OZARKS, MO – There are ample opportunities for visitors at Central Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks – the “Best Recreational Lake in the Nation” – to head off the beaten path and discover the Lake’s natural side on the area’s many hiking, walking and biking trails. The Lake of the Ozarks’ trails present wonderful opportunities to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life to view wildlife and discover beautiful scenery along the way.
With nearly 30,000 acres of public land dispersed throughout Camden, Miller and Morgan counties surrounding the Lake of the Ozarks, there is no shortage of opportunities to get outside and stretch your legs at the area’s two state parks and 28 designated conservation areas.
“There is no better way to discover the scenic beauty of our area than hiking or biking in the largest state park system in Missouri,” says Lagina Fitzpatrick, executive director of the Lake of the Ozarks Tri-County Lodging Association. “There are so many hidden treasures to be found along the miles and miles of trails at the Lake of the Ozarks.”
The most popular trails at the Lake of the Ozarks are at the area’s two celebrated state parks. In total, Ha Ha Tonka and Lake of the Ozarks state parks have a combined 26 different trails covering over 57 miles. Each park showcases the area’s unique natural history, terrain and beauty.
Ha Ha Tonka State Park, named the “most beautiful place in Missouri” by CondeNast Traveler magazine and voted the fourth-best state park in the country by readers of USA Today, has one of the most photographed features in the state: the ruins of a 19th century “castle” that was constructed on a high limestone bluff overlooking Ha Ha Tonka Spring and the Niangua arm of the Lake of the Ozarks. The 3,751-acre park is Missouri’s premier showcase of karst geology and is unique in the quantity and quality of its remarkable geological features.
The thirteen walking trails at Ha Ha Tonka, covering more than 15 scenic miles throughout the park, make it easy for visitors to experience the honeycomb of tunnels, rock bridges, caverns, springs, sinkholes and other natural areas. Visitors can peer into caves, climb 316 steps from the spring to the “castle” on a wooden boardwalk that circles the spring chasm, or navigate well-worn paths through the woodland area and the park’s glades. The park’s most popular trails include the 0.4-mile paved “Castle Trail” which leads up to and around the remains of the once-elaborate country estate, the 1.4-mile “Spring Trail” which provides a wonderful view of Ha Ha Tonka Spring before ascending up toward the castle ruins and “Turkey Pen Hollow,” a rugged 6.5-mile hike through hardwood forests, prairie and glades.
Additional details on Ha Ha Tonka State Park, including a history of the park, trail maps and descriptions of the trails, are available at mostateparks.com/park/ha-ha-tonka-state-park.
Lake of the Ozarks State Park is Missouri’s largest park consisting of 17,626 acres and also is the most visited. It is a favorite among backpackers and anglers and also features a 10-mile aquatic trail, accessible only by boat. On land, 12 trails, ranging from 0.8 of a mile to 14.1 miles, wind through the park. Lake of the Ozarks State Park also features trails that accommodate mountain bikers and equestrians for those who would like to take a different approach to how they navigate the trails.
A couple standout trails at Lake of the Ozarks State Park are Rocky Top Trail, which is a semi-rugged two-mile loop that features panoramic views of the Lake from atop a dolomite bluff and the Trail of Four Winds, the longest trail in the park clocking in at 14.1 miles in length. Four Winds travels through almost every type of natural community in Lake of the Ozarks State Park providing stunning views of the Lake, rock outcrops, breathtaking overlooks, seasonal streams, ponds and woodlands. Another very popular trail at Lake of the Ozarks State Park is Coakley Hollow Trail, a self-guided interpretive trail that measures a fairly easy distance of one mile. Coakley Hollow meanders through one of the most ecologically diverse areas in the park, featuring six different types of ecosystems, including dolomite glades, fens, spring-fed streams and several types of woodlands. Interpretive stations are located along the trail, making it easy to learn about the terrain and rare species encountered along the way.
Lake of the Ozarks State Park also is home to Ozark Caverns, one of Lake area’s four show caves. Informative park interpreters lead hour-long, narrated hand-held lantern tours of Ozark Caverns’ underground beauty from mid-May until mid-September. Tours of Ozark Caverns cost $6 for children, $8 for teenagers and $10 for adults.
For more information on the trails and features of Lake of the Ozarks State Park, visit mostateparks.com/park/lake-ozarks-state-park.
Both state parks are free and open to the public year around. Each offers spectacular shows of color during the spring and fall, and native plant species and wildlife thrive in all seasons.
Five of the 28 unique Missouri conservation areas at Lake of the Ozarks welcome hikers and feature designated walking trails, birding areas and natural areas to explore as well. The conservation areas also are free and open year around. For more details on the Lake-area conservation areas, their trailheads, and other activities and amenities available, call the Camdenton Conservation Service Center at 573-346-2210, or visit the Missouri Department of Conservation website at www.mdc.mo.gov to access an interactive atlas for detailed maps of the different areas.
Those looking to spend some time on the Lake’s trails have a variety of options to choose from when it comes to comfortable accommodations for overnight stays. There are full-service large-scale resorts and smaller family-owned and operated resorts as well as charming bed and breakfasts, rustic cabins and quaint cottages. In addition, there is no shortage of fully furnished vacation rental homes and condominiums. There also is a selection of familiar hotels and motels at the Lake of the Ozarks. For those who prefer sleeping under the stars, there are spacious campgrounds and RV parks interspersed throughout the area.
Visitors can learn more about all the fun events, unique attractions and enjoyable activities, as well as lodging and dining options available all year at the “Best Recreational Lake in the Nation” at www.FunLake.com or by calling the Lake of the Ozarks Convention and Visitor Bureau at 1-800-FUN-LAKE (386-5253).
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